At 27-years-old, Phoebe Dahl laughs at the challenge she’s set herself: “It all seems really doable!” The task in hand is no small fry. Three years ago she set up her own company, Faircloth & Supply – an LA based fashion line, offering basics, dresses and more, with a zen like simplicity of design and all constructed from natural fabrics and made in local, ethical factories. But Faircloth is more than just a go-to for the modern day woman who wants to feel comfortable and chic: every time you buy an item, it gifts a uniform to a girl of school age in Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world, where gender inequality is high and girls without uniforms have no access to school – limiting their futures in many ways. Equal access for females to education is crucial in ending global poverty, and paired with the way the way people feel about “throwaway fashion” and educating them on it, Phoebe is hellbent on shifting the fashion paradigm, one classic t-shirt at a time.
Hi Phoebe! When did you realise that you wanted to make clothes?
My Grandmother lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico and owned this beautiful antique fabric store. When I was a little girl she was always teaching me about different fabrics dated back all the way to the18th century… Her signature was to make these beautiful bias-cut nightgowns out of antique table linens. Watching her was so inspiring as a young girl. The first thing I’d ever sewed when I was seven or eight was with her, it was a little French beret that I made out of this beautiful french lace fabric with a giant pom pom on top. This is really where my love for fabric and clothing construction started…and it stuck – I was actually the only person in my graduating high school class that knew exactly what I wanted to do.
You have a very particular sense of style, which I think is reflected in the clothes you make.
It is a reflection of my personal style: everything I make I would and do wear. I’m a firm believer of, “If I’m not going to wear it why would anyone else?” I only work with natural fibres, so predominantly linen, cotton and silk. My aesthetic is to be chic while simultaneous comfortable. I design for a woman who travel a lot, she is cultured and curious. If she has to run away for a weekend, she can throw any and all of her Faircloth pieces in her carryon and look effortlessly chic. It’s important to me that women who wear my clothing feel sexy and powerful without having to show too much skin. If you’re comfortable in what you’re wearing it really shows and I want that to shine through...it all comes from within. It feels like there is a lot more confidence floating around amongst women these days. You hardly see women in skin tight clothing any more, everyone seems to have adopted an effortlessly chic style. We saw this happen in the second wave of feminism in the 60’s - with style icons like Bridget Bardot and Jane Birkin.
What really stands out to me about Faircloth, is how involved you are with the humanitarian aspect of the company.
I have always been active in community involvement, when I was younger I spent six years working with people with disabilities. So when I started Faircloth there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t incorporate a give back business model. My biggest struggle is that I want to do too much good. My heart is in so many places when it comes to global social and community involvement. I’d love to eventually have to privilege of extending my outreach to animals and the environment, but for now, I must focus and not dilute my missions - my time is spent with my brothers and sisters in Nepal, exactly where eIm supposed to be.
How did you find out about them?
I was having dinner with a friend, she was working on a documentary called Girl Rising, a documentary about educating girls on the gender equality that happens in developing countries. An issue that the rest of the world doesn’t acknowledge. I was so intrigued by what my friend was telling me; it really stuck to my heart. I immediately dove into research and the deeper I got the more involved I because and felt such a strong pull to the young girls of Nepal – I wanted to align with a small grassroots charity that I could be hands on and work with, rather than just throwing money at the problem. I wanted to be there, on the ground and involved every step of the way. I found this amazing company in Nepal called GWP – an instant synergy - and together we’ve sent upward of 5000 girls to school…and counting!
Wow! That must be a pretty incredible feeling.
It’s so special. I’ve been there multiple times and one of the biggest take aways was this one time I was in the school in rural Nepal and they were so excited to get their uniforms, it was such a contrast to school kids in the US! The girls ripped off their clothes and put on their uniform. For them it represents so much, a future and the opportunity to move away from the gender oppression that they face. One of the girls told me that she wears her uniform even on days she’s not at school because it acts as a body guard against traffickers. Traffickers don’t approach girls that are wearing uniforms because they know that they are educated against them, and won’t be easily coaxed to go away with them. It holds a lot for these girls.
That’s an amazing thing to hear but also incredibly heartbreaking.
I know. There’s so much more I want to do. Usually if a company is going to have an ethical or sustainable standpoint they usually have a one-for-one giveback or they will do everything organically. Faircloth does both, which is really cool! We make everything organically, our fabric is organic, organically dyed and we also do the giveback. It’s a really all encompassing, every part of it is ethical and holds a level of social accountability.
What have been the difficulties of launching your own fashion company? I feel like it’s easy to have the ambition to launch a fashion company but harder to navigate the "company” aspect.
Totally. I learned along the way. I can think on my feet and everything that I was thrown I just figured out how to do it. I talked a lot to people and got a lot of advice. When I launched Faircloth at age 24, I did have any friends with their own companies, especially Fashion companies, so I was try alone and forced to figure things out along the way! I did a lot of googling. At this point, I’m three plus years in, I’ve learnt so much and everything runs pretty smoothly. I did go to fashion school and a piece of advice to anyone who’s in creative school would be to pay attention to the business classes. They present you with hypothetical situations and I would just fudge my way through those classes and I definitely did need them. It was probably the most important part other than the creative process…but we all know that can’t be taught. I’m still super involved with everything, from sourcing fabric and factories to website design and photography. I mean, at this point we are a team of five. Which is still pretty small but it’s more than one!
What’s your end goal for it?
I’d like to expand to other countries outside of Nepal – I’ll always stay rooted there but I’d like to start doing different work and learning about different cultures. It’s all been such a natural progression and growth. I often think about people’s lack of education about where their clothes come. There’s such a big gap between the manufacturer and the consumer. There’s no connection, people don’t know where things come from and what the consequences are. Ten years ago it was the same with food; people didn’t now about factory farms or organic meat…and look how fair we’ve come purely though educating people. This same revolution is just starting to happen with fashion, people are becoming more interested and self educating and taking a stance. Everything I do is made locally with ethical factories that I’m close with the owners of, all here in LA, everyone is paid fair wages – obviously I have a big issue with sweat shops – but just because I’m collaborating with a factory in India doesn’t mean it’s a sweat shop. Just because a tag says made in India or China it doesn’t mean that it was made in a sweat shop. I’d like to change people’s perception, in those countries people are really good at what they do, that’s their skill, they’re artisans – I’d like to change people’s negative perception surrounding mandating overseas.
It sounds like you’ve got a lot happening!
Well, change just needs one person, you know?